On Jan. 11, 2007, hundreds of New Orleanians rallied outside City Hall following a violent 2006. That year, 162 people were killed, including band director and musician Dinerral Shavers, marking New Orleans with the highest per capita murder rate in the U.S. Shavers' death — and the Jan. 4, 2007 death of filmmaker and artist Helen Hill in her own home — sparked the group Silence Is Violence to campaign for peace and demand citywide protection from gun violence, especially in its most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Ten years later, following a violent 2016 in which 174 people were killed, a small crowd had gathered on the wet steps of City Hall to memorialize victims of violence from the last decade — not with a march, but with a solemn reading of the names of more than 2,000 people who have been killed in New Orleans since 2007. Family and friends of the victims — along with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman — read the names of all of them, starting with Corey Hayes, 28, who was killed on New Year's Day 2007. Towering nearby was a sculpture by artist Mitchell Gaudet, an annual piece reflecting the previous year's murders with large pieces of broken glass representing each victim, and two revolvers mounted toward each other at its center.
"It's surreal to be here 10 years later," said Nakita Shavers, whose brother Dinerral was killed Dec. 28, 2006.
Deborah Reeder, whose son Chester Reeder III was killed near a Super Sunday parade in 2009, read the list of victims from that year. "It's difficult for me to read — my son is on this list, so bear with me," she said. "For all the names that will be read, I am sorry for our loss."
Arron Thompson, 19, was killed in Algiers in March. His mother Angela stood with the readers while holding two framed portraits of Thompson in his high school cap and gown.
New Orleans officials counted 174 murders in 2016. There were 164 murders in 2015 and 150 in 2014, following a drop from 193 murders in 2012 to 156 in 2013. But according to crime analyst Jeff Asher
, 35 to 37 percent of shootings in New Orleans are fatal, and there were nearly 500 shootings in 2016 — a 24 percent increase from 2015, indicating a rise in violent crime, he says. As the impending mayoral race heats up, the future of the city's crime and criminal justice system will likely be under a massive microscope in 2017.
"I never understand why we're at this place," said Tamara Jackson, director of Silence Is Violence. "But things have to get better."